What are the best things to have come out of Italy?
Amazing food (including pasta and, of course, Italy is the birthplace of the pizza), fantastic wine, amazing architecture and beautiful art to name just a few things. The Roman Empire once ruled half the world and remnants of that amazing civilization can still be seen standing today. Michaelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci are only two of the world renowned artists and sculptors that were born in this country. The Italian football team have won the World Cup four times and its national league is recognised as one of the best in the world. On the right we see our lady enjoying this wonderful country.
When it comes to music, I would imagine that, to most people the world famous stars of Opera and the classical composers would be the first that come to mind but, hidden in the background and coming more to prominence in recent years, there are a plethora of Italian power metal and progressive metal bands that are taking the genre by storm. Recently reviewed on this webzine we have Heretic’s Dream, Memento Waltz and Altair, to name a few and, how can we forget the likes of Lacuna Coil and DGM? The list is being added to all the time, in fact, I could probably fill quite a few sides of A4 paper if I had the time. Italian symphonic power metal gods Rhapsody of Fire must be considered as one of the pioneers, formed in the mid 90’s as they were, let’s wander back to the early days and have our usual history lesson.
Rhapsody of Fire were formed in 1993 (releasing their first albums under the banner of Rhapsody), their debut album Legendary Tales (1997) made a huge impact on the scene, displaying a mixture of classic Power Metal combined with baroque and classical elements, huge choirs and orchestrations. Due to legal issues the band had to rename from Rhapsody to Rhapsody of Fire in 2003 but continued to release their symphonic epic Hollywood metal.
In 2012, band leaders and main composers Alex Staropoli and Luca Turilli decided to go their separate ways: while Luca founded “Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody. Staropoli (keyboards), Fabio Lione (lead vocal), Alex Holzwarth (drums), Oliver Holzwarth (bass) and new guitarist Roberto De Micheli continued with Rhapsody of Fire in a more classical and heavy direction. After the Live – From Chaos to Eternity album, released earlier this year, Rhapsody of Fire now, finally, unleash their highly-anticipated new studio album, Dark Wings of Steel. Most of the songs have been written by Alex Staropoli and his brother Manuel whilst the lyrics were penned by Fabio Lione. Maintaining the typical Rhapsody of Fire sound, the band managed to evolve and grow stronger than ever before. Working with a real orchestra and real choir again was something very important for the band.
I must admit to having a soft spot for some of the Italian power metal bands and that will continue after hearing Dark Wings of Steel, overblown and exceedingly pompous but an absolute riot of an album. The choir and orchestra heavy opener, Vis Divina is a short introduction to the album proper. Rising from Tragic Flames is a great symphonic metal track, nice guitar heavy intro with cool keyboards and the initial vocals from the choir before Lione chimes in with his powerful voice. The fast, shredding riff adds impetus throughout the song, this is quality stuff but I feel that these guys can always stretch themselves a little further and have more to give, the delightful solo perhaps hinting at what is to come. Angel of Light is a more straightforward metal track with a bombastic start that paves the way for some softer vocals but then just pounds you into submission with its pressing and demanding riff. The choir have a huge input into the dynamic chorus, I really like this track with its laid back keyboard and guitar solos and quality drumming. The super-heavy guitar that heralds Tears of Pain is counterbalanced by a smooth orchestral note and a more insistent, harder vocal. Lione’s voice works really well with the choral elements on this return to the more symphonic side of the band, especially on the lifting chorus. The orchestra and choir really take this up a notch, add in some classy guitar work and you couldn’t really ask for much more. You might not ask for it but, the band, definitely want to give it to you, Fly to Crystal Skies is another slice of power metal coolness. The excellent riff and vocal performance, especially on the sublime chorus prove that these guys have got it in spades. This track has a more rock orientated edge with the choir absent and the orchestra given lighter duties, another super silky keyboard solo and a shred heavy solo just adding to the quality on show. There is an unwritten rule in power metal, and that is that you have got to have at least one ballad on an album (well, if it isn’t a rule, it should be), the guys don’t let us down here. My Sacrifice is a power ballad, heavy but meaningful. Lione hits us with an emotional vocal and the orchestra powers the track along nicely complete with a more subdued riff from the guitar. I don’t know if the song suffers a little for its length, coming in at a weighty eight minutes along with the customary keyboard and guitar solos but, I think they just about get away with it.
Are you strapped in tight? Silver Lake of Tears powers off at a huge rate of knots, almost speed metal in its frenetic pace. The superfast riff and frenzied drumming are balanced, to some extent, by the composed vocal but this song is, without a doubt, a slab of power metal goodness , throw in an electric combination of guitar and keyboard solos and you have the heaviest track on the album. Lucky listeners that we are, not only do we get a power metal ballad we get the beautiful Custode di Pace, a silky smooth ballad in the band’s native Italian language and, despite the fact I cannot understand a word, the heartfelt and downright passionate vocal performance from Fabio Lione leaves you in no doubt of the feelings on show here. A soaring, impassioned solo and the ever delightful orchestra complete a seriously poignant performance. A Tale of Magic drags you from the reverie with another potent riff and thunderous drumming. Off we go with one more slice of power metal and the shortest proper track on the album. A commanding vocal, once again, from Lione is the centrepiece of this song although the sublime guitar playing of De Micheli cannot be ignored for long, especially the peerless solo. Now it’s back to the elegant symphonic style that Rhapsody of Fire are known for with title track, Dark Wings of Steel. An almost operatic performance from our lead vocalist this time, hitting every note, this guy has one resplendent voice that really works well in tandem with the orchestra. The keyboards, drums and guitar take their place in this superbly orchestrated set up, drums and keyboards providing the foundations whilst the first-rate guitar fires off flashy licks to all corners culminating in yet one more razor sharp solo. The breathless journey that began 55 minutes ago is coming to an end, final track Sad Mystic Moon feels like a huge cinematic score, from the mournful violin at the start, through the hard and heavy riff overlaying the orchestra to Fabio’s vocal which is so full of feeling. That sensational choir put in one last huge performance and, almost like an encore, you feel like cheering. There is a feeling that you have been present at something just that little bit different from the norm as everything comes to a final conclusion.
Overblown, pompous and bombastic, Dark Wings of Steel does exactly what it sets out to do. This is pure symphonic power metal done with enormous skill. It does get slightly overbearing in parts but the brilliance of the rest of the album means that the band can get away with it. The highlights of the album stand out like shining beacons of light and, generally, the quality never drops below damn good. If you like quality power metal with a twist you will love this.